Introduction: Costuming Prep 101

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Some of the most critical parts of costuming occur before a single piece of fabric has been stitched. Preparation before making anything can really help you achieve some great results. So here is a collection of some mini-tutorials to help you start costuming.

Step 1: Picking a Costume

When looking for costume inspiration, I start with things that I’m a fan of. It will make the processes much more enjoyable if it’s something that you are already excited about. Different areas for inspiration can include:

All forms of media:

  • Movies, books, tv shows, comics, video games, etc
  • Period and historical costumes
  • Artwork and fan-art
  • Your own custom creation

Don’t feel limited to characters that looks just like you. If you love a costume and want to wear it, then do it. Many people will gender-bend popular characters (it’s not just for Tilda Swinton).

I personally tend to pick things that look similar to me and my silhouette, but it doesn’t have to be an exact match. It just makes designing easier.

I also keep a list online of ideas as they come to me. Then when I want a new costume, I look through the list and see what I like the most at the moment.

Remember that most importantly, this is all about having fun.

Step 2: The Project Triangle

There are a few big consideration to make when starting a project.

First, is the consideration of you time. Time can be limited in terms of how much time you have free, or how much time before you reach a deadline. Often, we want a project to be fast.

The second consideration is the desired quality. We want a project to look good.

Finally, we need to consider financial resources. How much money am I willing to spend or put aside for the project I’m working on. Really, we want the project to go as cheaply as possible.

Ideally, we would have all three of these when making something. But the reality is, is that we often can only pick two. Let’s look at the combinations:

  • Good - Fast: If you want something to be done good and fast, be prepared to spend more. To save one time while maintaining quality, you will likely have to look for things that have already been made (which includes just buying a pre-made version of the project itself).
  • Good - Cheap: If you want something to be good, but on a budget, then be prepared to spend a lot of time on it. That may be time making things yourself, or it may be time shopping around at different stores looking for the best deals. I often use thrift shops, but what is available there is always a gamble. It may require going back a few times before finding what you need.
  • Fast - Cheap: This is for when I just want a costume. Unless you get lucky or are very creative, you probably won’t be winning any costume contests. But it’s still fun to participate.
  • All three - The unicorn of things. While it is possible to achieve all three, do not depend or expect it to happen.

Step 3: Breaking Down Your Costume

After you have picked out a costume, one of the first things you want to do is create a breakdown. This will help you a lot in keeping a costume within the budget, as well as finishing it on time.

Look at the full and complete costume that you want. Make a list of all of the individual parts of that costume (i.e coat, pants, vest, boots, wig, etc).

Now order that list by highest priority (the stuff that you most need). This will set your priorities on what to build. This will also help you stay in budget and finish on time. You can even order the list by Must haves, Secondaries, and Details. Be sure to keep in mind things that might be easy and/or cheap to get, or that you might already have. They may not always be highest priority, but it’s nice sometimes to get some low hanging fruit.

Remember that some of the best costumes are made in the details. Details can include:

  • Jewelry
  • Props
  • Wigs
  • Accessories
  • Weathering
  • Makeup

Step 4: Preparing Fabric

Always (I repeat ALWAYS) buy extra yardage of fabric. Also be sure to double check the width of the fabric you are getting compared to the suggested widths on the pattern. Many fabrics will shrink in the wash, and you may lose some length in other ways as you prepare your fabric for sewing. It’s always better to have a little extra than to realize too late that you are going to have to make your pants into shorts.

After you have bought your fabric, the first step is to pre-wash and pre-shrink the fabric. This typically means that you are going to wash and dry it the way you plan to wash it once it has been made. Though I often like to pre-wash and dry it at a warmer setting than usual, just to be safe.

Next, you want to put the fabric on grain. Putting the fabric on grain means getting the grain (or weave of these fabric) to be nice and square. Not doing this step may result in the fabric twisting around as you wear it.

To put a fabric on grain requires two steps: squaring the edges and pulling the fabric on grain.

  1. Squaring the edges is most easily done with woven fabrics. When the store cuts the fabric, they normally don’t take care to cut the edges completely square. To fix this, we’ll snip a bit at the end, then tear down the fabric. This will tear down a nice straight line. It may not look square yet, though, because now we have to pull the fabric.
  2. Pulling the fabric on grain is most easily done with two people. Each person takes one end of the fabric. They then fold it in half (hot dog style) and pinch on the fold letting the other side hang loose. Give the fabric a little shake to loosen things up and see how evenly the edges hang. Take the corners that seems to hang shorter on both sides. Then, while firmly hold the corners, pull and stretch the fabric. Repeat the steps until the corners meet up nice and evenly on both edges.

Now your fabric is on grain and be a lot nicer to cut, sew and wear. Finally, make sure it’s all lined up nicely when you lay it out and prepare to cut.

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